Archive for Thursday, February 19, 2004

Opinion: Class act

February 19, 2004

It's with great reservation that I write this week about Bruce Courtney, one of my former basketball coaches and teachers, and a man I'm proud to know and call my friend.

This week, Courtney, as classy a man as you'll ever come across, did a brave and honorable thing by announcing he would step down as head basketball coach at season's end.

It would be easy for anyone aware of the recent Bobcat struggles to read the headline at the top right of this page and draw a conclusion that Courtney is to blame for the team's win-loss record. I suppose to the shortsighted, he's a convenient target.

But, placing sole blame on Courtney is not only wrong, but misguided.

Friends should speak honestly with friends, which is why I'll say this to a community I've lived in most of my life -- the failure of the basketball program in recent years falls back on many people, not just one man.

Everyone with an interest in the program, from coaches to players to parents to administrators, should hold themselves accountable as well and candidly ask themselves what more they could have done in recent years.

Players should ask themselves if they worked hard enough in the offseason to be successful. Parents should wonder whether they gave their sons ample tutelage, guidance and support for them to compete. Coaches and administrators should re-evaluate player development, beginning at the youth leagues, and facility uses.

There's plenty to do and plenty to fix if this ship is to be righted, and everyone needs to pull in one direction.

To his credit, Courtney never once mentioned any of these things when I spoke with him this week. As a former player and long-time coach, he understands that, right or wrong, reasonable or not, the head coach is the figurehead and is often accountable for the state of a program.

When I spoke with him, he never wavered in accepting responsibility. He never criticized his players -- young men he's proud to have taught in the classroom and on the hardwood -- or parents, or the high school administration, who have been nothing but supportive, he said.

Not once did he take the route many would have and said "yeah, but..." when asked about his team's struggles.

He loves the program and the school too much for that. In the end, his passion for the program was so great, it overcame his competitive urge to stay, keep coaching through the turbulent times and prove to critics that he knows this game and knows how to teach it.

It takes a man of integrity, a selfless man, to willingly hand the reins to someone else like Courtney will do at the end of the season.

I hope people will keep a few things in mind before they decide to toss rocks Courtney's way and discount his coaching tenure. I hope they remember that he's a good coach and served this district loyally for seven years as an assistant on teams that consistently competed for trips to the state tournament.

I hope they remember he waited patiently for a chance at the head coaching position and never made demands for the opportunity when it became available but always bided his time.

I hope people remember he preached ethics, team play, sportsmanship and character to his players and set an example for them not only on the basketball floor but off it as well.

Mostly, I hope people will remember that Bruce Courtney is a class act, which isn't difficult to realize. Just ask a former player.

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